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FIGURING IT OUT AS WE GO ALONG!
The Hudson Valley
volume 3, no. 1 • LATE Spring 2010
Part 1 of What is Sure to Be an Endless Series on the Local Food Movement! Interview With a Gastronomic Libertarian! The War Over the Soul of Facebook! No Sudoku!
ON thE Web at hvChronic.com
Photo by Steve Hopkins
In Your Face
Negotiating the tricky landscape of 21st-century social media, ChroniC-style
Didi Barrett and her husband, David Barrett, begin getting used to the spotlight.
A Star is Drafted Didi Barrett emerges from behind the velvet curtain to take on Steve Saland
Photo by Beth Blis
The publisher and Facebook scourge contemplates the next step in a multilevel assault on the sociosphere.
when engaging in efforts to grow his/her/its sphere of online influence. These folks have enough free time to have developed a tightly wound sense of Facebook ethics, and seem as dedicated to the task of enforcing this byzantine code of conduct as any constitutional scholar. I, on the other hand, true to my quasi-anarchist temperament in the real world, seem just as hell-bent to hijack the medium for whatever suits my personal/corporate purposes, rather than as an online opportunity to demonstrate my understanding of social niceties. While I know how to avoid doing something obvious enough to get kicked off Facebook (posting nude photos of myself or my company, engaging in overly abusive cussing, threatening people, etc.), I am less compliant when it comes to expanding the Chronic’s reach. I tend to want to manipulate the established set of tools and variables, and have little patience with all the petty roadblocks Facebook sets up to keep you from using the medium as a mass marketing/networking tool (which is what it is logically really good for).
He’s so shy
From the first, I realized that no matter how I eschew easy socializing in the real world (I literally can count my closest friends on two hands, and have trouble keeping in regular contact even with that many), I would have to turn my natural reticence inside-out and try to amass as many potentially meaningful online relationships as possible, in short order. I was not interested in trumpeting the Chronic in a one-way PR blitz, begging for people to become “fans” and making easily ignored pronouncements trying to get people to buy stuff. As a free alternative news magazine, my little black-and-white, lowtech rag is as non-commercial as a for-profit concern can possibly get. It exists, first and foremost, to tell stories, to attempt to edify people and occasionally find ways to improve their lives. I knew that to gain a Facebook following the Chronic needed to be experienced on a personal level, as a humanoid entity with a sharply delineated point of view, deeply held opinions and feelings, a strong, trustworthy, morally unimpeachable character and the ability to spark a conversation. You’ve got to engage as a person, join laudable Continued on Page 7
Continued on Page 5
The Pillorying of Allan Wikman Wings clipped, swatted off his perch on the legislative windowsill and convicted of being an unruly pest, Ulster County’s resident gadfly plots his next solo flight
t’s been a while since I caught up with Allan Wikman, one of a handful of ongoing character studies the Chronic seems incapable of avoiding. As an example of the classic political “gadfly” — that species of hectoring nudge that have plagued local municipal boards and legislatures since time immemorial — he’s a difficult but ultimately worthwhile subject. When more savvy newspersons than I spy him loping down An unrepentant, uncowed Allan Wikthe street toward man vows to appeal his May 2 convicthem, they usually tion for disorderly conduct. run into the nearest coffee shop and hide until he disappears. Politicians, lawyers and people known to carry around large sums of cash usually do the same. But I, perhaps because Wikman is infused with the sort of politically idealistic fighting spirit I’d
Photo by Steve Hopkins
f you live within a 75-mile radius of downtown Pleasant Valley, NY, are relatively engaged with the world and have a Facebook account, chances are good that you probably have seen a thumbnail version of the above individual’s mug popping up on your computer, cellphone or PDA screen. You may have deleted the pest, or you may, as have thousands of other intelligent, thoughtful and curious souls to date, seen something in his beady eyes or the lovely industrial revolution-era waterfall in the background to entice you to click “Confirm Friend,” thus being drawn into his hard-to-define orbit, circling the black hole of his massive ambition. There is a name for this sort of attention-seeking succubus, and it’s not something printable in the second paragraph of the lead story in a family newspaper. The Hudson Valley Chronic is not, as has been charged by one negative nellie, a “corporation masquerading as a person.” As is patently obvious from taking one glance at this front page, it is a person (the guy in the photo) masquerading (unconvincingly, for the most part) as a corporation, so he can get paid a little bit for doing what he likes. There are many millions of people doing pretty much the same thing, promoting themselves and their pursuits and trying to get better known and better remunerated. Many of them don’t use their real names, and many of them are incorporated in one way or another. So far in America (thanks, ironically, to a hugely unpopular Supreme Court decision), they’re still allowed to be people, at least on Facebook. Anyway, after dragging my feet through the entire rise and fall of MySpace, I finally started a Facebook account for the Chronic last spring, and in one year have developed a “friends” list to rival those of Steve Winwood, Susan Orlean and Kimmy Kardashian (all of whom are among the Chronic’s best online buds), as well as a small but growing “enemies” list. The detractor mentioned above, for instance, threatened to report my effrontery in registering the Chronic on Facebook as an individual, telling me that I have to start a business page and attempt to attract “fans” as opposed to “friends,” or risk being reported as an abomination. Another guy is telling an actual friend of mine to stop befriending his friends, or he’s going to have his lawyer write up a cease-and-desist order. These are but two examples of an untold number of self-deputized social media police a business/person periodically runs afoul of
lthough the Chronic is not usually a kneejerk partisan kind of mag, I’m going out on an early limb and wholeheartedly endorsing the candidacy for NY State Senate of Didi Barrett, a neighbor and a thoughtful, intelligent and hardworking advocate for the public good who happens to be a full-on Democrat. She’s running against Steve Saland, a nice enough guy whom I personally like but who has had long enough (20 years!) to coast on the coattails of an old, significantly worn political paradigm in a position that could use some fresh energy and spark, along with an attitude less in lockstep with the entrenched power elite.
Continued on Page 4
The Hudson Valley
Page 2 • late spring 2010
Chew on This
Interview with a Gastronomic Libertarian
By Jennifer Brizzi
hen it comes to the source of our food, opinions differ widely. Most people in my social circles strive to be green these days, to eat sustainable, humanely-raised meats and organic produce, to eschew products that come from long distances, mostly to cut down on fossil fuels. But I know those things are not priorities for everyone out there and I wanted to see the other side of the coin so I could keep an open mind and figure things out on my own. I didn’t want exposure to this viewpoint just by surfing blogs but by talking to a real Hudson Valley resident, for whom buying only local, sustainably-raised and grown food wasn’t a clear choice. I had asked around to see if anyone knew anyone with strong opinions on current food-related trends or terror ingredients du jour like Bisphenol A, present in the linings of most tin cans and linked to deadly diseases. Finally, a couple friends of friends of friends concurred that Dan Curris was the man I should talk to. So I spoke with the self-professed blogger one Tuesday afternoon on a nasty gray January day that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be above or below freezing. The road to his home in an unnamed hamlet on the Hudson was a wintry mix of slush, sludge and ice. His ramshackle shack was in various states of repair and ill-repair, with crumbling beige vinyl siding, some of its windows and doors boarded up, sagging at porch and lintels. As soon as I got out of my car, a largish, fierce and mangy dog of undetermined lineage yanked on its own chain. Warily, my host let me in and put the dog in a rickety cage, where it growled and snarled for a while then finally hushed. The hovel was filthy, dingy, cluttered with empty beer bottles and piles of magazines I was afraid to look at the titles of. It looked like the lair of a man unused to paying much attention to the world around him. Curris looked unhealthy, his skin greasy, pockmarked and pale. He was clearly unused to the light of day. He could have been 29 or 59; I truly couldn’t tell. I asked him to remove the sunglasses for the photos and he refused. He began the interview right away, without offering me a seat.
CHRONIC The Hudson Valley
Editor & Publisher Steve Hopkins
Associate Publisher Emeritus Paul Joffe Contributors Jennifer Brizzi Molly Maeve Eagan Harry Seitz Bryan Bopp Ann Hutton Advertising firstname.lastname@example.org Steve Hopkins
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D.C.: First thing you have to know is, it’s Curris, not Curtis. Get the name right. J.B.: Nice to meet you, Mr. Curris. Have you been interviewed before? D.C.: Whatever. J.B.: A couple people told me you would be someone to talk to about food. About current trends in food? D.C.: [Grunt] J.B.: Are you interested in food? D.C.: Sure. Who isn’t? J.B.: Okay, well, let’s start at the beginning. What did you have for breakfast? D.C.: Leftover pepperoni pizza. From Friday night. J.B.: Okay, Mr. Curris [he cocks his ear to make sure I’m not mispronouncing it], that may not be the healthiest thing. Although I will admit cold pizza for breakfast is not bad at all. [Here I am trying to establish a rapport with the man, and in full disclosure this interviewer does love leftover cold pizza for breakfast. But only the next day, not four days old.] D.C.: It’s got all the food groups: crispy, crunchy, greasy and salty. J.B.: Okay. I won’t argue that. Although the crunchy part is debatable. Although after four days … What’s for dinner tonight? D.C..: Dinty Moore beef stew. J.B.: Okay, let’s get right to it. Do you know about the BPA in can liners that leaches out into the food and causes cancer, diabetes and hormonal problems like early puberty, gender-bending and reduced brain function? D.C.: Sure, I heard. My girlfriend stopped using plastic bottles. Still smokes, though. Anyway, my great-grandpa had a can of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich every day for lunch and lived ’til he was 89. And that wasn’t any organic cheese from free-range cows in that sandwich. It was government cheese. Not much milk in it at all. J.B.: Ah-ha. So you are familiar with terms like organic and free-range. Let’s start with those and get down to the nitty-gritty. What does the word “organic” mean to you? D.C.: Well, when I think of organic, I think of the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. J.B.: I used to read Cosmo a lot but I didn’t realize they had shifted their focus to organic food. D.C.: Are you kidding me? “How to Become Multi-Organic in Just One Week.” At Stop ’n Shop I’m not just checking out the candy bars. I read. J.B.: Hmmm. D.C.: Okay, okay, I’ve seen organic stuff. Organic just equals more expensive. Not worth it. J.B.: All right. Lets do some word association. Sustainable. D.C.: On that one, I’d have to say I’m an antisustainabilitarianist. Remember “antidisestablishmentarianism,” the longest word? [Here I realize Dan is well over 29.] J.B.: Why so? D.C.: My niece Eunice, she lives in [undisclosed largish Hudson Valley town]. She has four kids, no husband, a shit-ass job making shit money in too many hours, and she needs to keep her kids alive. She can’t worry about if her chicken ran around in some barnyard and was happy before its neck got wrung. She can’t worry if her broccoli traveled 5,000 miles or 50 to get to her. She needs to be able to afford it and when she can buy it she needs time to cook it. Dinner from the chicken chains is just about as cheap and a hell of a lot faster. Those higher, loftier ideals like locagreenasustaina-whatever, just aren’t on her priority list. J.B.: Okay, speaking of food traveling a long way to get to us brings us to the term “locavore.” Are you familiar with that one? D.C.: The one where you can’t drink coffee because it won’t grow in the Hudson Valley? Why did God create airplanes and trains if we can’t move stuff around so we can get at it?
J.B.: What about our carbon footprints, the effect on the environment of all this food transport? Can’t we just grow our own organic chicory in the back yard and drink that in the morning? D.C.: Not happening for me or any other coffee addict here, or anywhere. And why don’t you ask Al Gore about his own carbon footprint when he’s getting on his private jet to go lecture on global warming? J.B.: Next. Vegan. D.C.: We humans are the highest on the food chain for a reason, and if the good lord had meant for us not to eat animals why did he make them so tasty? J.B.: You sound like a T-shirt, or Homer Simpson. Okay, farmers’ markets. D.C.: That just means that farmers sell the food they grow. A farmers’ market can be a huge mega-corporation or Joe Farmer selling his tomatoes by the side of the road. The term means nothing. J.B..: What I’m talking about is small gatherings of local farmers selling real food to real people. Quality stuff by the people, for the people. Giving back to the community, freedom from additives, freedom from the mega-corporations. Good food for everyone. Some people complain that farmers’ markets are too elitist; others say everyone can go and afford what’s there. I think, I guess, that there have been groups of people getting together selling raw or prepared food since the beginning of time and all over the world. Like war, it’s a universal timeless thing, but it sustains us and strengthens us. It builds community spirit from the ground up. And since it all comes down to my own hedonism, it makes for some really tasty food. D.C.: Zzzzzzzz. J.B.: Please wake up, Mr. Curris. What do you think about trends? The heroes and villains of the food world. The oat bran of the oughts, açai? The latest food scare? My friends are always terrified of the latest maligned additive, from that BPA in cans to the newest thing in orange juice. I just read that “fresh-squeezed” OJ is actually months old and jazzed up with “flavor packs” to make it taste good. Scary, right? D.C.: Sorry, that’s not scaring me. What else am I going to put in my screwdrivers? Tang? I mean I love Tang. Good stuff. Especially the morning after a bit too many of those. [Curris gestures towards the unruly pile of empty beer bottles in the corner] But I’m not giving up my orange juice. It’s not the same. You know, though, that’s my nickname: “Tang.” Because I’m a pretty feisty guy, if you know what I mean. In fact my last girlfriend— J.B.: [Shuddering.] TMI, Tang, let’s not go OT. D.C.: Huh? J.B.: I don’t think you’re really a blogger. If you spent any time at all on the Internet you’d know those mean “too much information” and “off topic.” Blogger/texter terms, like LOL and OMG. Do you even own a computer? D.C.: I use one at the library. I left Dan’s home, concluding that the truth likely lies somewhere in between his opinions and those of the middle class that I am most exposed to in my daily life. And I decided not to look at the man’s blog, whether or not it actually existed. The author of this interview wishes to disclose that Mr. Dan “Tang” Curris (cantankerous) was entirely fabricated, albeit inspired, only in part by her husband, who prefers to remain unnamed but who unwillingly and unwittingly inspired a tiny bit of the beginning of this idea. Thanks, you. The “photos” are, of course, herself in drag, and remind her that although the doctor told her mother she would be a boy, she is very, very glad he was wrong.
The Hudson Valley
lATE sPRING 2010 • PAGE 3
You are what, where, when and how you eat
The local food movement is exploding in the Hudson Valley; but is it sustainable? Part 1 of many
here’s something in the zeitgeist, and it smells like food. Fresh, local food, that is. Driven into overdrive over the last year or two by increased media attention, the exponential effect of social media and the appearance of hard-driving documentary films like Food, Inc. and Fresh, the impetus to create a more sustainable, regionally based agricultural economy — known these days by a growing number of different monikers, including the locavore movement, the local food movement, the regional food movement, food patriotism and others — has been growing like kudzu. Nowhere seems more like ground zero in the movement these days than the Mid-Hudson region, home to a blizzard of farmers’ markets, CSAs (community-supported agriculture organizations in which paying members get a weekly share of a farm’s produce), fine restaurants that utilize local food, artisan farmers and producers, self-reliant sustainable farming families who feed themselves and their neighbors and barter for much of what they don’t produce, and an almost invisible army of activists plotting to overthrow the corporate agriculture regime that has ruled American stomachs for half a century. For the past 15 years a foodie’s paradise due to the urban diaspora to upstate from Manhattan and the existence of the world-renowned Culinary Institute of America churning out a fresh supply of ambitious young chefs every year, the region is now exploding with initiatives to grow, market and distribute fresh, non-toxified food to people in every corner of the economic and social playing field. Somewhere in the fivecounty area served by the Chronic (Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Columbia and Greene) there is a significant food-related meeting or event every other week. Congressman Scott Murphy recently jumped on the bandwagon, holding a “Home Grown Economy Conference” at a golf course in Union Vale. Back in March, the Students for Sustainable Agriculture Club at SUNY New Paltz held a full-day blockbuster titled the Global Food Crisis Conference, bringing in a pair of heavyweights from the activist “food justice” arm of the locavore movement, Eric Holt-Gimenez of FoodFirst Institute for Food and Development Policy and Molly Anderson of Food Systems Integrity. Representing the local point of view at the event were Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners and Billiam von Roestenberg of Liberty View Farm in Highland. We’ll be interviewing both of these groundbreakers and many more in subsequent articles. Among a number of events sandwiched between the above two, Dutchess County Bounty, the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation and the Northern Dutchess Alliance hosted a “speed networking” event at the visitor’s center on the National Park Service’s FDR property in Hyde Park, trying to get local farmers, food producers, chefs, caterers and food buyers at the same table, so to speak. That event featured a keynote address by Brian Zweig of Business Opportunities Management Consulting in Rensselaer, who must have been reading my mind when he delineated and made sense of a number of the vague concepts that had been plaguing me ever since I commenced this daunting project early this year. For most of this piece, I’m just going to let him ramble, because nothing I could write sums up the state of the local food movement in the region better than he did. “I work with companies doing marketing and business planning,” explained Zweig about his company’s intentionally nonspecific moniker. “I used to work in the food industry. We hear a lot about the benefits of buying local and local food and connecting buyers and sellers and direct marketing for agricultural commodities. It all sounds re-
The block-long Chelsea Market in New York City, where dozens of Hudson Valley producers service a voracious year-round demand. Could something like this in every Mid-Hudson city help revive downtowns, provide locally grown year-round produce to urban residents and give regional farmers and purveyors an even better shot at surviving? Just sayin’ ...
ally good, and my question is, is it really as good as it sounds, and what are the facts behind it? “First, it’s interesting to note that the overall movement of direct-to-consumer sales is growing. It’s increased threefold in 15 years, from a low of $400 million in ’92 to $1.2 billion in 2007, and I can only assume it’s grown even more significantly in the last three years. So we’re talking about over a billion dollars in terms of the size of the directto-consumer opportunity here. So just in terms of general market size, when you’re talking about a billion dollars, you’re talking about a big market. In addition, I think it’s important to note that that is not just a big market; it’s one that is growing very quickly — twice as fast as all other agricultural commodities. “And what’s even more important to the folks in this room is that the area where it’s growing the fastest is in the Northeast. And I think that is because we’re very close to large markets — New York City, Boston, other big metropolitan areas that are relatively close to farms. We have a lot of small farms, but we also have a lot of farms that can specialize, and meet the needs of different markets and in particular, ethnic markets. My conclusion is that we in the Northeast here are well positioned to take advantage of what is a large and rapidly growing market. “Another thing I learned is that farmers’ markets are growing, and I think this is something that many of us have observed. Certainly I have; I’m on the board of a local farmers’ market. The number of farmers’ markets (in the U.S.) has grown from over 1,700 15 years ago, to over 5,000 now, and just in the last year it’s gone up 13 percent. And that’s 2009, and from what I’ve seen, just anecdotally, it looks like there are even more markets popping up every year. In terms of just the sheer number of farmers’ markets, it’s a trend that’s growing very dramatically, and one that’s growing even more so in the Northeast. So farmers’ markets, when it comes to direct-to-consumer opportunities, are growing by leaps and bounds. “Similarly, CSAs are growing very quickly. The CSA concept started a little over 20 years ago, with the first two CSA organizations in the mid-’80s. Now we’ve got 3,400 CSAs in the U.S., and over 12,500 farms are participating. So when you think of growing from nothing to what we have right now, CSAs are another area where there is a lot of interest, a lot of growth, and the numbers support that. “I think the restaurants that are here today are a great example of the trends that we see reflected in the 2010 survey by the National Restaurant Association. If you look at the top 12 trends: look how many of these relate to what we’re talking about here today. 1) Locally grown produce. 2) Locally sourced meats and seafood. 3) Sustainability. 5) Locally
produced wine and beer. 8) Farm/estatebranded ingredients. 12) Organic produce. All the things that we’re talking about here today, those are half of the top trends in the restaurant industry. Again, the timing and the actual facts seem to support what we’re trying to do. “And another one that we haven’t talked about as much today, directly, is supermarkets, and their interest in local produce. In a survey done just this year, 83 percent of shoppers said that access to local produce was an important consideration when they’re choosing where they shop for groceries. And related to that, and somewhat of a surprise to me, was the fact that farmers’ markets are now the primary source of fresh produce for 25 percent of all consumers. And that’s compared to supermarkets, which are the leading source with 56 percent. So when it comes to opportunities, supermarkets are competing with farmers’ markets now. Farmers’ markets have become a real competitor when it comes to fresh produce. And I think you see that with things like even Wal-Mart now is looking at how to source local produce — again, the local food movement is turning into a reality even for the biggest corporations in the world. “The conclusion I take from this is that there really is greater interest in locally grown agricultural products; it’s not just something to talk about or that sounds good, the facts support it. Which means that there are more opportunities to sell local products, and my expectation from what I’ve seen is that these trends are likely to continue. Because we’ve seen more interest in farmers’ markets, more interest in locally produced things, even if they’re more expensive, and even while we’ve had a downturn in the economy for the last couple of years. “And there is more and more funding available to support this kind of thing. We see First Lady Obama is trying to promote healthy eating and growing your own food and so forth, so I see this as a trend that’s not a passing fad but likely one that will continue.” Zweig then did something that to me should be the primary focus as the next step in developing a truly vibrant and sustainable regional food economy. He described a trio of success stories around the nation that serve as examples for what might be done here: “The Oklahoma Food Co-op,” began Zweig. “This is a web-based order and delivery system, started in 2003. It sells food and non-food items that are only produced in the state of Oklahoma. You don’t necessarily think of Oklahoma as the local produce capital of the world. But these folks have created something where they have 3,000 members — that includes 200 producers. They have deliveries in 48 locations across the state, and it’s a big state. And they’re generating through this website a million dollars worth of transactions a year.
“So if a state like Oklahoma — which doesn’t have the history maybe, or you don’t think of as a progressive area when it comes to local produce — can carry that kind of sales, I think that shows that there’s a real big opportunity there. “Another one is Farm Fresh To You CSA. They do 10,000 weekly box deliveries. Again, that’s a huge number, when you think about 10,000 deliveries that they make to homes and direct consumers. And they also sell to restaurants and farmers’ markets and wholesale. Just showing the potential for some kind of operation like this is impressive. “The last one here is called Appalachian Harvest, established in 1999. What they’re doing is working with local supermarkets. Sixty producers including 53 farmers doing organic produce and seven egg producers; they ship 2,000 types of organic produce to more than 600 supermarkets, including Whole Foods. They’re doing about a half million dollars annually, and their operation includes producing, grading, packing, in a centralized facility. Not only are they doing a lot of business now, but they estimate that they could do two to three times more if they had the supply. “So again, these are just examples of the kinds of things that you can do given the kinds of market opportunities that we have here in the Hudson Valley, and I think it’s food for thought.” Yes it is, and we’re going to highlight different sides of this important subject in upcoming issues, as well as attempt to compile an online compendium of as many local food-related entities in the five-county Chronic distribution area as we can find. Wish us luck, and meanwhile, you can get a serious dose of what I’m talking about if you attend your local farmers’ market. In addition, you might try to get out to Gray Horse Farm for their third annual Organic Field Days celebration on Saturday, May 29 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Stop by, bring the kids and pack a lunch. The farm, which is always open and accessible, offers fresh chicken, eggs and other certified organic products for sale. On this particular day things will be ramped up to include a host of free activities including draft horse demonstrations, pick your own eggs, and egg carton decorating and a scavenger hunt for children. The kids can also mingle with and learn many amazing facts about farm animals. They’re also inviting as many local vendors as they can pack in there, to showcase their products. The farm is at 286 Hobbs Lane in Clinton Corners, NY, not far from the Salt Point Turnpike exit off the Taconic Parkway.
The 2010 Poughkeepsie Main Street
Farmers’ Market is back!
Fridays from 10 am to 3 pm, June to October
Opening Day for 2010 is Friday, June 4
with a gala Ribbon-Cutting at noon! Fresh, locally grown vegetables and fruits. Ethnic food court, music, special events and entertainment. In funky Mural Park on Main Street, 1/2 block east of Market Street
For info and updates, visit
The Hudson Valley
Page 4 • late spring 2010
The Pillorying of Allan Wikman
The campaign trail is a lonely place, especially if you’re on Social Security, dyslexic, unaffiliated with any party, and the powers that be are plotting to keep you off the ballot. But that’s not stopping Allan Wikman. Now 78, he’s planning another run for Ulster County’s top political office.
speaking seminars, lobbies successfully for public school music programs, performs literary readings, and engages in vigorous e-mail campaigns to publicize the many issues that intrigue his active mind. Until recently, he never missed a monthly session of the Ulster County Legislature, monitoring and occasionally weighing in on the proceedings from an unconventional but grudgingly tolerated perch on a windowsill at the back of the room. In 2008 he ran a star-crossed independent campaign for the right to be Ulster County’s first executive, and came in a miserable third as Republican-turned-Democrat Mike Hein stampeded to his foregone conclusion of a victory. Wikman’s slim hopes had earlier been dashed completely when the Hein forces engaged in a successful and most likely totally unnecessary maneuver to keep his name off the ballot. That the process used up the time and energies of two high-powered attorneys, an elections commissioner and a state Supreme Court judge, is testament to the singular ability Wikman has to turn those in power against him.
During the time he was making this un-historic political run, Wikman confessed to me something he had done the previous fall — committing a personal act of protest against the biennial “Burning of Kingston” rite by absconding in the dead of night with one
Photos by Steve Hopkins
like to see take root in this region’s listless, beaten electorate, like to give him his inches and a little soapbox from time to time. For those new to this story, here’s a bit of explanatory boilerplate: Allan Wikman is a tall, gaunt septuagenarian who lives alone in an apartment on the fourth floor of a senior public housing tower, subsisting on a $1,169-a-month Social Security retirement check. He takes medication to ward off depression, which doesn’t prevent him from maintaining a surprisingly wide variety of acquaintances and friendships that he nurtures by making daily rounds of his adopted town of Kingston, N.Y. on foot or on a bicycle, 12 months a year. While his carbon footprint is as close to zero as a white man in America can hope to attain, his ambition is boundless. A former actor and Madison Avenue idea man with a passing physical resemblance to — take your pick — either Jimmy Stewart or Franklin Delano Roosevelt (whom he played in a traveling show of Annie, despite the fact that he disdains pretty much everything the man stood for), Wikman made his mark with multimillion-dollar campaigns for Colgate-Palmolive and other corporate giants in the time before his nervous breakdown brought him low. A proudly iconoclastic figure, he is prone to long-winded and sometimes baffling public pontifications, either in a stentorian oratorical style reminiscent of a 1950s newsreel, or in rambling, oddly punctuated e-mail missives, taking on the powers that be regarding such matters as taxes, budgeting, corruption, incompetence and governmental reform. In his elliptical, dyslexia-influenced way, he often makes enough sense to be taken seriously. He runs
From Page 1
Candidate Allan Wikman paying his first visit (but not his last) to the very expensive, formerly controversial Ulster County Law Enforcement Center in 2008.
or more Revolutionary War-era sailing craft moored man was, all dyslexic 210 pounds of him, pretending for the evening at a rowing dock in Poughkeepsie by not to notice but fully realizing that the jig was probaa group of re-enactors sleeping in pup tents. I cannot bly up and no doubt salivating over the constitutional afford the paper and ink to retell this rollicking yarn battle that was about to ensue on his behalf. here, but suffice to say that it was an odyssey of legAfter getting the word from Wadnola, the county endary proportions, and a worthy story upon which sheriff himself, Paul Van Blarcum, along with Unto hang the launch of the Chronic in October of 2008. dersheriff Frank Faluotico and a couple of security You can still read it on-line at http://www.hvchronic. guards, approached Wikman and asked him a few com/volume_1/no_1/the_burning_of_ times to please move. According allan_wikman/001_page_1.html to court testimony Wikman didn’t Wikman was again in the news as budge, and when they subsequently the 2009 Burning of Kingston event lost patience and put their hands on was marred by what he insisted to him he dropped to the floor in an police was a “copycat” shanghaiungainly ’60s-style heap of nonvioing and intentional grounding at lent resistance, saying: “you’ll have Kingston Point of another, even bigto carry me out.” The four lawger boat — perhaps, he claimed, by men, one on each limb, physically a mysterious female schoolteacher hustled their cumbersome load who had been “inspired” by his wellfrom the packed room as he allegpublicized (in this paper, at least) edly spouted to the gallery: “Look jihad of two years earlier. I stayed what they’re doing! They’re violataway from that one, except to make ing my constitutional rights!” a quote or two in a competing paWikman was taken to the Ulster per and to compare notes with a County Law Enforcement Center well-known local blogger from anand charged with disorderly conother organization. Wikman was not duct, a charge that lingered uncharged, although he remains under noticed in the air for four months Wikman in river pirate mode. permanent suspicion. until it finally stuck on Monday, May 3, when Kingston City Court Judge Lawrence Ball pronounced him guilty and sentenced him to 15 days in jail with a conditional Sit-down strike discharge, provided he refrain from sitting on the This brings us to the issue at hand, which had its legislature windowsill or creating any similar disgenesis when Wikman attempted to sit on his customturbance for a year. Presumably this would include ary windowsill at the year’s first meeting of a new, getting caught stealing another Revolutionary War suddenly Republican-controlled Ulster County Legre-enactor’s boat, but the next Burning of Kingston islature on January 6, 2010. The fledgling GOP mais a year and a half away, so Wikman’s probably safe jority, headed by Chairman Fred Wadnola, the beon that one. loved restaurant owner and retired former supervisor The trial was entertaining to the four uninvolvedof the Town of Ulster, was in no mood to have Wikbut-still-interested parties in attendance, who includman looking over its legislators’ shoulders and taking ed myself, another journalist with too much time on verbal potshots, as he had done during the previous her hands, and a nice couple from Rhinebeck who Democratic-controlled legislature led by the more were friends of Wikman. The most interesting thing, tolerant Dave Donaldson. Signs had been posted on to me, was that once again Wikman brought against the walls announcing the new policy that no one is himself an odd assortment of players whose associaallowed to sit in the back of the room. Yet there Wik-
Marc Black Band to perform Songs of Woodstock
he Marc Black Band will perform a concert at the Kleinert/James Art Center on Friday, June 11 at 8 p.m., an evening dedicated to songs Black has written over the years about his experiences living in the legendary town of Woodstock NY. Arriving in town when he was just 21, Black swept sidewalks to get by, living in a series of woodheated shacks while singing his heart out at every opportunity. In no time he formed a band, which within a couple of years expanded to include many of Woodstock’s greatest players; people like Warren Bernhardt, Betty MacDonald MacDonald, Gary Burke and Don Davis. He recorded with a panoply of locally-based leading lights including Jack DeJohnette, Garth Hudson and Art Garfunkel.
The band for this show will include Betty MacDonald, Michael Esposito and Eric Parker. There are sure to be some of Woodstock’s favorites sitting in. Black has also invited Gretchen Witt, a powerful up-and-coming singer/songwriter he happened upon in Texas last year, to open the show. She’s been a ‘New Folk’ winner at the Kerrville Folk Festival two years running. Again, that’s the Marc Black Band, Kleinert/James Art Center, 34 Tinker St. in downtown Woodstock on Friday, June 11 at 8 p.m. Tickets can be obtained through the Sweetheart Gallery, 8 Tannery Brook Rd. Woodstock, 845-679-2622. $18 in advance; $20 at the door. For reservations, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hudson Valley
tions and interplay pique security officer, David the curiosity of someone Mead, who testified in seeking to understand uniform. Both men basithe way true power cally supported Wadnoworks. laâ€™s testimony, that WikThe lawyers and witman was told sitting on nesses outnumbered the the windowsill would no onlookers. Wadnola was longer be allowed, was the star witness for the asked multiple times to prosecution, which was get off it, refused multiple handled by Ulster Countimes, and slumped to the ty Assistant D.A. Cindy floor in an uncooperaChavkin. He brought tive heap when they and his own representation, their boss and co-worker in the form of attorney attempted to physically David Van Benschoten, escort him out. whom I remembered Wikmanâ€™s courtwell from his vigorous appointed defense atbut ultimately fruitless torney, Will Meyers, defense of the American kept trying to paint the Candle Company, a.k.a. picture of a man sitting Clearly Tech, against where he always does efforts by the Town of and minding his own Saugerties to shut down business, who had no what was alleged to be a intent to disturb anytoxin-spewing, workerthing but just wanted abusing sweatshop, for to be left where he was. assorted building and He described the winsafety code violations dow seat as the only among a long list of other place in the legislature indignities. The empty, room that Wikman, rusting hulk of that facwho is aurally chaltory, the ground beneath lenged, could hear anyit brimming with toxic thing. He found one chemicals dating from witness, Rev. Julius Wikman in happier times, flush from holding his own in its chip manufacturing Collings, who would a debate with Mike Hein and Len Bernardo at Rocking Horse Ranch. heyday in the hands of testify that Wikman Philips Electronics North America Corporation, was a harmless old dude sitting where he always still stands in the way of meaningful development in does, and didnâ€™t disturb anyone. â€œIt didnâ€™t make me the Kings Highway corridor. feel good that it would happen; that anybody would The candle factory, when it was debuted in the be taken out in that manner,â€? testified Collings when summer of 2000, was owned by Seagrams/Vivendi asked a leading question by Meyers as to how he heir Michael Bronfman, and was a pet project of â€œfeltâ€? about what he saw that day. Charles Gargano, chairman of the stateâ€™s Empire None of this swayed Judge Ball, who really didnâ€™t State Development agency, who came for the ribbon have a choice. You donâ€™t get anywhere in life siding cutting with his pal, Gov. George Pataki, promising with 78-year-old dyslexic, hard-of-hearing malconthe usual 400 or so high-paying jobs. After a few tents against the county sheriff and the chairman months, the only jobs were for five-foot-tall Andean of the legislature. But he did stand firm against the wage slaves, bused in from the Bronx every day to prosecutionâ€™s attempt to impose a fine and make Wikstand on crates, and allegedly working two or three man serve five days of community service (which I to a Social Security number. would have paid to see). â€œI agree that this seems to With my customary relentlessness at the time, I did have been an act of civil disobedience,â€? allowed the a series of stories in the Saugerties Times that helped judge, perhaps inadvertently setting the grounds for get the thing shut down so people in the neighbora possible appeal (which Wikman vows up and down hood could breathe better (the sickly, probably canto make, despite the fact that he has no money). cer-causing candle fumes were making them sick). Wikman also vows to run again for county exWhen I asked him questions about his clients, Van ecutive, a doomed quest that will surely engender Benschoten looked at me like he wanted his eyes to another story or two. turn into lasers. I developed a working relationship At any rate, in the interest of keeping this ball with the town building inspector, a stand-up guy if rolling, Iâ€™d like to reach out to all my attorney there ever was one. I followed the buses, obtained friends and acquaintances, to ask that one of you photos of the work conditions, and interviewed a perhaps take this manâ€™s ongoing Quixotic thrashing former accounting employee as to the alleged emunder your steady, knowledgeable wing, and possiployment fraud. None of that evidence was ever folbly make something useful and even groundbreaklowed up on by local or state authorities. ing out of it. But I digress, as usual. The point is, it was nice You never know â€Śit could be a career-maker, as seeing Mr. Benschoten representing someone more long as youâ€™re not seeking to enmesh yourself in the deserving and reputable. local power grid. Any takers? Also in the witness box for the prosecution during the Steve Hopkins proceedings were Faluotico and the legislatureâ€™s senior
A Star is Drafted
From Page 1
She shouldnâ€™t have too much of a problem defining herself as a preferable alternative. Indeed, in the early going, Barrett was handed a juicy bone to chew on when, on May 7, former Republican Majority Leader Joe Bruno, convicted of two counts of mail fraud in December 2009 after having been caught making lucrative deals with people who had business in the legislature, was sentenced to two years in prison (which he is not so far serving, pending an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the constitutionality of the â€œhonest services statuteâ€? that was employed by the prosecution to convict him). Barrett was quick to point out the obvious connection between Saland and his former majority leader. â€œThis is a sad day for New York State, one that brings home the need for sweeping ethics reform in the Legislature,â€? she said. â€œToo many Albany politicians put their own self-interest ahead of the needs of the people who sent them there, and their fellow legislators do not hold them accountable. I am disappointed that the incumbent senator in the 41st district, Steve Saland, not only supported Bruno as majority leader seven times but just last year voted to put Pedro Espada, now under investigation himself, in charge of the Senate. That vote effectively shut down the state and cost New Yorkers millions of dollars.â€?
As was Bruno, Espada is being investigated for allegedly abusing positions of public trust for personal profit. Barrett points out, correctly, that â€œSince 2000, Steve Saland has accepted $33,500 in campaign contributions from the Committee to Re-Elect Senator Bruno. That makes Saland among the top recipients of money from Joe Bruno.â€? This may sound like hardball, but so far itâ€™s being played with big, fat softballs. Iâ€™d be surprised and disappointed if Barrett didnâ€™t take advantage of something this obvious. But despite the necessity of harping on Salandâ€™s shortcomings, sheâ€™s not running negative. Iâ€™ve met her and like her (sheâ€™s a former journalist after all), and respect her well-informed and reasonable progressive nature and her drive to make her little piece of the world a better place. Sheâ€™s got that unimpeachable FDR/Moynihan thing going, which is that sheâ€™s a Democrat on moral grounds. She doesnâ€™t need all the aggravation but will dive in and put up with it anyway, if it will make somebody elseâ€™s grandmother able to live a better life. Watch her, listen to her, and help her win in November. Trust me, sheâ€™s a keeper. Thatâ€™s the 41st Senate District, which covers most of Dutchess County and all of Columbia. For more info on Didi, with a bio and all that, go to http://www. didiforsenate.com.
lATE sPRING 2010 â€˘ PAGE 5
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The Hudson Valley
Page 6 • late spring 2010
A time to renovate Recession-weary contractors emerge from the woodwork to take a look around
he Great Recession of 2008-10 (and counting) has taken a huge toll on the livelihoods of many people and changed the face of entire industries. One of the groups most impacted has been the independent building contractors, a hardy and self-sufficient species who know from experience how to weather the bad times. In the Mid-Hudson Valley during the height of the housing and stock market boom, it was nearly impossible to get a contractor to your house for a small, one-day or even one-week job. There was an awful lot of relatively stable, well-paying long-term work to go around, including scores of multimillion-dollar, highend building projects and renovations needing teams of contractors and subcontractors. Over the past two years, many of those jobs have dried up as rich patrons, uncertain about the future and concerned about the present, have husbanded their dwindling resources. Formerly in-demand contracting companies feel lucky to have been able to subsist on the sorts of tough, tricky, low-paying small jobs that once went to the many uninsured and reference-challenged bottom-feeders in the local industry. The general effect on building contractors depends on whom you talk to. “We’re doing smaller projects these days, because a lot of the people who do large projects just aren’t doing them,” says Brian Squire, president of Victorian Builders out of Cottekill, one of the premium outfits in the region. “And the ones that are doing them have so many people vying for them that it’s tough. Percentage-wise up here, there’s only 5 percent of the contractors handling all the multi-million-dollar type of work. An awful lot of people are looking for work and are trying to do anything with anybody. A lot of my competition now are people out there working because they lost their regular jobs and are trying to feed their families. Theyre doing what they have to do.” “I do anything,” says Greg Meola, whose company, Olive Builders, is staying light on its feet. “In this day and age, anything. Like anybody else, I prefer larger projects where you’re at one location for six months, but I have some clients now who are just looking for a little
roof job, or a little bit of maintenance work. Typically when you’re involved in a bigger project, you don’t take on those little projects.” He sees the playing field a little differently than Squire, albeit no less dire. “When things get tough like they are now, it weeds out a lot of the guys that were around five years ago when things were booming. A lot of those guys have gone back to doing whatever they were doing before,” he says. “The better guys, the established contractors who have repeat business and word-of-mouth, have stayed busy. But definitely, the competition is fierce. When you give someone a price nowadays, you may not even include a profit margin. You’re just trying to get the job and pay the salaries and the overhead. I have just one guy right now; I’ve had to be pretty flexible. I had five or six over the summer for about five months, and then I went down to three guys for a while, and I’m down to just one right now. I’m working for one client over the winter; we renovated three bathrooms. I’m not necessarily fielding calls every day from people.” For some homeowners (this one included) the recession as described by Squire and Meola has provided an opportunity to rate the attention of, and get quality work done by, a top-notch outfit for a fraction of what they might have charged someone during the high times. That window is starting to close, but it remains a good time to score a really experienced and reputable contractor to redo your bathroom or kitchen, shore up a sagging porch or deck, or check out your roof. Still, don’t think you’re going to get off cheap. It may cost less than it once did, but nothing about home improvement can be considered cheap, if you want to do a good job and have whatever’s been built or renovated outlast the family gerbil. Squire and Meola’s opinions both reflect this ethic; neither wants to be associated with a “cheap and dirty” job. That’s not how you build a reputation. In fact, it was functionally impossible in the time alloted for me to find any contractor in the Mid-Hudson region who didn’t bristle or clam up at the word “cheap” with reference to the original intent of this article, which was to get recommendations from contractors for people desiring to do an inexpensive fix-up of their home, perhaps with the intent to sell it. “To sell? Beyond cleaning things up and maybe painting, I wouldn’t do anything,” says Squire. “You lived with it for however long you were there without improving it, and now you want to do it for somebody else? You’ll never get your money back.” And don’t even start trying to get him to sacrifice quality. There are variations as to what is acceptable, but he simply will not use substandard materials or sacrifice in workmanship. He did however, provide a laundry list of tasks you could, in anticipation of putting a house on the market, have performed by someone, if not by him. “To spruce up your deck for selling your house you can get a cedar wood cleaner or a trisodium phosphate cleaner and mix it with water and scrub it down,” he says. “You can take a pressure washer and hose all the old, weathered wood off and just have a clean wood look. You can also scrub your siding so that you don’t have mold or dirt or any crud on that. Caulking and painting around windows can really dress things up, because that’s where a lot of wear happens. Cleaning back a lot of dense growth around the house helps, too. Inside, cleaning and putting a coat or two of paint on everything helps to get rid of any undesirable smells.” Meola is just as finicky with materials and workmanship, but does think certain improvements might help sell a house. “I don’t really do the cheap home improvement stuff, like putting vinyl siding over a messed-up façade,” he says. “But sometimes you just go in and fix up some rot and repaint something, make it look good so they can put it on the market. If you’re trying to sell your house, the things that make sense to do involve a bit of the ‘wow’ factor. I guess they say the kitchen sells the house, typically. So you’ve got to have the updated appliances, nice cabinetry and stuff that they can touch and feel. They don’t necessarily care so much about the roof, as long as it doesn’t leak. The foundation they don’t really care about as long as it’s not crumbling or compromised.” “It’s tough cutting corners to save money; people always seem to want to do that, and in a sense I’m always trying to help them,” says Meola. “But there are things you can do here and there, like choosing affordable tile (I have a couple of sources for that) or less expensive fixtures from places like Lowe’s or Home Depot. But for the most part, the labor is still going to be what it is, and generally I feel that you get what you pay for. I try to get them into better quality cabinetry and stuff. You can go down to Ikea, but that stuff is all particle board. It doesn’t last, it breaks. Especially cabinetry. You touch it and feel it every day, using it. Doors and hardware, things that you see.” Meola also thinks hardwood floors are a must as a selling point, but again resists trying to do it on the cheap. “To save money a lot more people are getting into the pre-finished stuff, but a lot of that is coming out of the rain forests, from South America. There’s Brazilian
cherry and all these really exciting sounding woods, but it’s all old-growth rainforest — not really the green option. And a lot of the stuff that’s pitched as ‘green’ is really not. Bamboo, which is expensive, is green in that it’s basically like a grass and renews itself very quickly.” “The new thing that I’m into is the spray foam insulation,” continues Meola. “It’s double the cost of fiberglass, but people are getting that payback every month in heat savings. My new angle is I’ve got to convince people to use it; I’ll get it done for them at cost, perhaps say to them, ‘Look, I’m going to take it on the chin on this, but I’m going to give it to you for my cost, just so you can make it work.’ Because I just think it’s so important; if you’re not going to pay the spray foam guy, you’re going to pay the oil man over time. I’m discovering that I need to be more proactive and push people to do these sorts of things.” In fact, Meola thinks more people than not want to do the right thing and don’t care about the cost, and he has been promoting an increasingly green agenda to potential and repeat customers. “The 97-percent efficient heating systems, geothermal systems, solar arrays and sustainable building materials, that’s what I’ve been recommending,” he says. “I saw a geothermal system yesterday that was really great. I’m looking at the options; I have a commercial project coming up, and I’m really trying to push my client to go the distance and spend the money for the geothermal.” Again, it’s not cheap, but it can save you a bundle over time. “Let’s say your standard heating system, let’s say, boiler and controls, is $6,000,” says Meola. “Basically, the way this guy pitched it to me, you’ve got an additional $8,000 over the cost of a normal boiler and controls. Plus you’ve got to do all the groundwork; whether they’re going to do a series of wells or, as with this one particular guy I met with yesterday, he’s got a building site of bank-run gravel, so the ground is easy to dig. So he put all the tubing horizontally, in 10-foot trenches right in the ground under the parking lot. He’s exchanging that ambient 53-degree ground temperature and didn’t have the cost of drilling wells.” Another long-term money-saving, green technological home improvement solution involving a significant up-front investment is letting Old Mr. Sun heat your water — or three-quarters of it, anyway. Bob O’Keefe of Tivoli, owner of Hudson Valley Solar Hot Water, has transitioned from a lifelong career as a high-end carpenter and contractor to help people do just that. “I install photovoltaic systems for heating hot water,” he says. “A three-panel system mounted on the roof will take care of a family of five. There are credits that the feds and the state pay through NYSERDA that mitigate a significant percentage of the total cost. A $10,000 system, after the tax credits are applied, will cost about $4,500. The panels are basically 4 feet by 8 feet. The system works in conjunction with your existing hot water system, by preheating the water before it enters the system.” That $4,500 investment, he says, is a drop in the bucket compared to what you’ll save over time. “It’s about a four- to five-year payback period,” he says. “But basically, over that same period you’re going to pay for the system whether you buy one or not. So you might as well get the system. Over that four- to five-year period, because your electric bill for hot water is a quarter of what it was, the system is paying for itself. And after that, what you thought of as your monthly water bill drops dramatically. With the rising cost of fossil fuel and the price of electricity, think of what you’ll be paying for hot water 10 years from now. And you’ll be getting 75 percent of that for free. It would be the best investment you’d ever make. When you look at the savings over a 30-year period, the return on the investment of $4,500 is astronomical.” You don’t have to tell me twice, Bob. The first $4,500 I have laying around is going straight atop my new $50,000 metal roof, put there by Mr. Squire and company. By that time all three of these guys may not have room enough in their schedules to fit me in. “My next project is a pretty decent-sized commercial building, which is mostly a management job,” says Meola, whose one crew member happens to be a good friend of mine, the artist Paul Heath. “I’m not really going to have my own crew of guys. I have guys that I can call when I need them, but mostly I’ll be using subcontractors. I’m not managing each individual guy, I’ll just deal with their boss. I plan on keeping Paul on as an assistant, and I’ll have a couple of freelance carpenters come in here and there. It’s just about being lean and mean right now. I didn’t buy a bunch of equipment; I don’t have dump trucks and things sitting around. I never saw the need to invest and go and take out a bunch of loans. You’ve got to be able to fluctuate with the times.” Which show signs of fluctuating back upward, after a long, hard low. “Now people are calling; there’s actually people beginning to get interested in doing things again and the high-end work is picking up a little,” says Squire. “It’s definitely been a trying time.”
The Hudson Valley
From Page 1
groups representing your interests and moral stance on issues (although you’ve got to be careful, even when joining what you find out is a good cause, such as supporting the effort to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. The Facebook-annotated invitation to join this group appeared to me as: “John ... suggested you like 6,000,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust by the Nazis ...” an unfortunate-sounding concatenation of verbiage that the sender surely did not intend). In my first attempts at trolling online for friendship for the paper in your hands, I quickly hit upon the tactic of using relatively popular real-life friends or longtime acquaintances as triggers for gaining automatic, unquestioned acceptance among total strangers. Take Mike Nickerson, for instance. This local legend owns the Black Swan, a legendary bar in Tivoli, which itself is a legendary hamlet in the minds of generations of current and former students of Bard College. Mike managed the old Rhinecliff Hotel during its legendary heyday, is one of the friendliest, most interesting people you’ll ever talk to, and is a magnet for intelligent, curious, demographically desirable people. So for a time I would browse Mike’s “friends” list, briefly check out each profile and, if the person exhibited a Chronic-esque sensibility, generate a friend request with a personal message, stating who I was and headed with the title, “Any friend of Mike Nickerson is a friend of mine.” Thankfully, Mike didn’t serve me with a cease-and-desist order.
Call me Hud
Because this strategy catapulted the Chronic friends network quickly into the hundreds, which was a respectable enough number to work with as a factor in further Facebook hegemony. I began scouring the site for individuals — local, regional, national and international — with whom I could develop a rapport and who were already operating at the level I hoped to achieve. Famous and onthe-verge writers, directors, artists, musicians, iconoclasts, social anthropologists, actors, a few politicians. Facebook intelligentsia superstars. Poets, hipsters and geeks. At one point I tapped into a seam of creative individuals associating themselves with the greater Woodstock area who took to the Chronic en masse, in numbers approaching the actual population of the Town of Woodstock. The same thing later happened with New Paltz, and is now happening with Hudson and Albany. A whole lot of NYC people with upstate roots and/ or weekend flops. When you get to a certain level of acceptance (2,000 friends or more), you no longer have to work to solicit connections, and they start finding you, at a clip of 20 to 30 a day, along with an increasing number of links gained through the expanding number of accepted requests you’re getting every week. Indeed, the once unreachable goal of hitting the 5,000-friend Facebook limit looms as an almost immediate probability; the Chronic at this writing has just streaked past 4,000, the 3,000 barrier was passed less than two weeks earlier, and the 2,000 milestone a couple of months before that. I began plotting at that time to create a “group” page, which I christened the Hudson Valley Chronic Confidential Club, and which provides a number of long-term advantages, including the ability to message the whole shebang in one shot (an alternative to mass e-mailing), and no upper limit for members. There are groups with memberships in the millions! Millions! Accepting an invitation to join this “club” identifies you as a person who
at worst tolerates what I’m doing with the Chronic, and might even like it enough to welcome missives in your in-box that someone not so inclined would consider spam. That’s what I originally thought, anyway. Something a bit different happened a couple of months ago when, following the horrific computer meltdown that caused the long hiatus between papers you may or may not have noticed, I decided to get serious about soliciting support for a regional nonprofit investigative journalism organization I’m plotting with a few eminent practitioners of the craft. The predictably long piece I wrote to convey this complex message was chopped into what I wrongly considered to be five easily digestible pieces, sent out to the members of the Chronic’s “Confidential Club” (at the time between 300 and 400 members) whom I assumed might be supportive. (You can read an updated version of this entire missive on pages 10 and 11.) The response at first was extremely positive, and I was figuratively (see that, Jen? Figuratively!) jumping for joy until I received the following message: Thomas G Henry: this is obnoxious March 20 at 9:00pm Thomas, whom I have met a number of times and personally like, then deleted the above, which I assume was written from his phone, and expanded on it: Thomas G Henry: Dude... that was annoying as hell... Here’s my suggestion: Write a note with everything you want to say in it... set the permissions so that only those you want to see it can see it... then send one e-mail with a link to that note.... not a million emails “to be continued.” March 20 at 9:04pm Things began to deteriorate before they got better. I wrote: Hudson Valley Chronic: What’s obnoxious is that Facebook won’t let you get a longer message into one shot. Sorry to have offended your sense of low-attention-span entitlement. It wasn’t a million emails, it was five. It won’t happen all the time, but if you don’t want to read, you probably don’t want to be a member of this “club.” March 20 at 9:20pm Thomas G Henry: See ya! March 20 at 9:23pm Hudson Valley Chronic: So long ... March 20 at 9:25pm (Participant 3): This new friend commented snarkily on Thomas’ departure. March 21 at 12:22am Hudson Valley Chronic: Welcome aboard. I’ll try not to annoy you, but you can’t please everybody. March 21 at 12:37am Thomas G Henry: No, you can’t please everybody, but apparently you can insult them freely when they offer you constructive criticism. My suggestion was sincere and it will help your group be less annoying. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings, but for a “journalist” you clearly have zero grasp of your medium or your audience. March 21 at 9:34am (Participant 3): Pointed out an irony related to Thomas’s use of the phrase “constructive criticism.” March 21 at 9:46am Thomas G Henry: (Participant 3), you seem to like picking fights with people you don’t know. How charming you are. You must be a lot of fun at parties. March 21 at 10:07am Continued on Page 8
In Mt. Carmel, a short walk from the Walkway!
In Your Face
lATE sPRING 2010 • PAGE 7
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The Hudson Valley
Page 8 • late spring 2010
In Your Face
From Page 7
Hudson Valley Chronic: Thomas, I thought you quit this party. For somebody with no time to read, you seem to have a lot invested in this little diversion. Now you’re picking on my new friends. Anyway, I take your suggestion seriously, and will certainly do that when I get access back to my website (I had a computer and data meltdown, so right now Facebook is my one not-so-convenient medium), where I usually put such long screeds. I’m not in the business of annoying people. But I am in the business of challenging people, and changing their habits to help them get their heads out of the sand. Saying I have zero grasp of my medium and my audience is clearly a load of s**t. March 21 at 1:01pm
insufficiently capable telephone an appropriate and sensible platform for accessing the Internet anyway? Thomas and I obviously feel somewhat passionate on opposite sides of this issue. I’m no Luddite, but I am definitely and loudly waging war against the short attention span misuse of a medium that’s training our population to be nothing but good little consumers and carriers of easily downloadable snippets of misinformation and tripe. I’m sure Thomas thinks me a dinosaur. But I’m one who’s mutating as fast as I can with the distant hope of becoming a bird, or a cockroach, even, and outlasting this army of clones. What do you think? Anybody else want to weigh in? March 22 at 9:05am
people to WANT to read what you send them, you have to leave them wanting more...not wear out your welcome. A one to two paragraph, concise and targeted message occasionally on FB is perfect. 5 jampacked messages in a row just conditions your readers to fear your communications and/or shut them out. If people are willing to support your endeavor, respect their time. If you have SO much to say that it requires that much space, Thomas is right, rather than messages, a note on your own page that you can then send out a link to, is the best way to go about that. Thank you for listening with an open heart because this is truly meant to help you. March 22 at 9:48am
Thomas G Henry: She’s a reapin’ what she been a sowin’. I came back because the conversation continued. I’ll be gone soon. And, no, sending a 5-part facebook message shows you have no idea what you’re doing (medium). It’s the behavior of spammers and hacks. It’s neither an issue of time nor reading, it’s about you blowing up my phone like a needy lover. Though I doubt your facebook audience is interested in reading such verbosity. These same folks might read it in a book, or in a column, I’m sure it’s masterfully prosaic. But, look around you. We’re people of blips n bites when we’re on here. This is not the audience for that. What’s the word count on that five-part message in all? Can you find me another example in the immediate community of something of that length? Just sayin’... March 21 at 1:33pm
Hudson Valley Chronic: By the way, Thomas, I really hope you’ll stay and see this out. It won’t be the same without you. March 22 at 9:24am
Dave Marshall: :) I am all for the HVC mission, but I also feel it’s more politic to “invite” people to read the text-rather than have it rammed down their inbox. I also don’t think name-calling or belittling other peoples feeling/views is a very good look for an organization in the public arena that wishes to be taken seriously -- whatever the rights or wrongs of the situation might be. It just doesn’t reflect the moral high ground that the HVC is (hopefully) aspiring to ... just my 10c. - Best wishes. March 22 at 10:05am
Hudson Valley Chronic: The person who doesn’t understand the medium is you, my friend, for having the shortsightedness to link your phone with Facebook (which is a colossal waste of minutes and bandwidth in the first place) and then presume that everyone is going to conform to your need to reduce all media to “blips and bites” so your dumb little phone doesn’t blow up. I also suspect you may be exhibiting the first stages of advanced cell-phone brain disorder, and suggest you read this compelling, although probably overlong and “prosaic” article in last month’s GQ -- http://www.gq.com/cars-gear/gearand-gadgets/201002/warning-cell-phone-radiation -If you don’t like it you can always look at the pictures. March 22 at 3:34am
Obi Kaye: Okay... I think that the simplest solution here might be one that serves both sides of this medium. It would seem to me that Thomas has actually made a valid point regarding the “delivery” (for lack of a better term) of the information. Perhaps, the e-mails (5 e-mails to print the entire story?) may have been a bit much. But, the story deserves to be told. (this is what Journalism is about). So, my suggestion would be this: Send an e-mail that contains an outline of the story. Print the story in it’s entirety in the “discussions tab”. In other words, use an “advertising ploy” to tease us a little bit AND let us feel invited to read it at our leisure. This also allows for discussion of the topic on the discussion board. Though I do not personally have an issue with the original 5 e-mails, I am aware that in today’s society of affective preoccupation and limited time availability, the general populace needs to be addressed differently than in the past. This is simply “PR”. You can still be effective in what you are doing (writing) but, you will receive the most productive (even if not, positive) discourse through invitation... My apologies as well for the semi-long-windedness of the above response. March 22 at 9:44am
Hudson Valley Chronic: I also suggest limiting yourself to twitter. March 22 at 3:35am
Bernie Mulleda: Maybe you should have written something along the lines of: LMAO IMHO .!. 8-) ROTFLMAO TTY. March 22 at 9:46am
Hudson Valley Chronic: I’d say Thomas and I are engaged in a debate here that is somewhat important. Who owns Facebook? Why should “journalists” be limited by the narrow focus of one species of Facebook user? Or, conversely, why should a young man with an iPhone have to put up with some a**hole filling his inbox with 400-word screeds? Is today’s still
Angie Aker: Honestly, I am a fan of what HVC is trying to accomplish, but from a marketing perspective, those 5 emails in a row were marketing suicide. Not because I’m brainless and need soundbites, but because I’m the leader of five of my own attentionintensive projects, I don’t have that kind of attention to give your cause. It is just fact that if you want
Gordon Wemp: I just joined because of the quality of some of my friends who have joined and this is the first thing I flashed on. I will say this about that: Emails should be in letter format (ie: Michael Moore understands this). Longer posts should be relegated to a blog or website. A blog is easy to set up. I also see that you have a website. So a link would have sufficed. A LOT of people (not just techno geeks or youth) access their email with their phones. To me sending overly long e-mails (unless it is sent as an attachment) is akin to getting several 5-minute messages in your voice mail. Not the best way to get the message out. Also, as an impartial viewer, I believe Thomas was unduly assaulted even if his advice seemed to come with too much ’tude. March 22 at 10:36am (Participant Number 3): My initial supporter in the verbal battle with Thomas, this new friend thought better of his or her earlier comments, and clarified that it was Thomas’ attitude and method of delivery that had engendered his/her sarcasm, as opposed to his message, which the participant in fact agreed with. He/she thanked the other commenters for recasting the conversation in a more constructive light. At this point I was feeling pretty much chastened, but decided to soldier on anyway, hoping for more reinforcements to arrive: Hudson Valley Chronic: I thank you all, too, including Thomas, who set this debate in motion. As I stated earlier, my intent was not to annoy, and I usually do just what Thomas prescribed. But because of a computer meltdown (data loss,software loss, loss of access to my FTP site, etc.) I’ve had
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virtually no access to anything but e-mail and Facebook for a few weeks, had a message to get out front and center. Yes, it was too long by the usual standards. But the nature of this particular message was not easily reducible, and I took the chance to rely on the good graces of what at the time was 300-odd souls who had already joined this group knowing its reason for existence and what an opinionated windbag I am. Although I generally agree with the need for brevity, there are exceptions. I hope some of you will actually read what I wrote in those five offending e-mails, and let me know what you think about that. Thanks again, and don’t be strangers. Best, Steve March 22 at 11:34am K.J. Harris: I’m trying to figure out what the big effing deal is. Yeah, I got five messages, and yeah, at the time, I didn’t have time to read them all. But they certainly weren’t going anywhere. It didn’t annoy me that they were in my inbox, nor did I take personal offense to it. It’s like TV. If you don’t like what’s on, pick up the remote and change the channel. Really? This s**t is upsetting to people? Perhaps they need to reassess their priorities. March 22 at 12:55pm Angie Aker: It’s not about it being a “big effing deal”. I reserved my opinion until Steve requested us to weigh in. In the interest of efficiency, meaning getting the most positive results possible from the effort you’re putting into it (not wasting effort) we recommended that he use a different method of delivery. And in spite of the annoyed tone he took when he conveyed it, I believe Thomas was also sharing out of an intention to help Steve be successful with his communications. Assume goodwill and you will be surprised at what you can learn from people. Or if you just want to do things your way and not give a crap about how other people feel about it or try to tell you, you can try that approach too and see how it works for you. Peace. March 22 at 1:04pm Dave Marshall: In practical terms - @Gordon “To me sending overly long emails (unless it is sent as an attachment) is akin to getting several 5 minute messages in your voice mail. Not the best way to get the message out.” In purely strategic terms, - @Angie,above. It only becomes a “deal”, effing or otherwise,when swords are crossed. Bestests. March 22 at 1:10pm
lATE sPRING 2010 • PAGE 9
Dave Marshall: :) March 23 at 11:00am Ernie Berckman: I liked the 5-part e-mail better ... then again I would ... I am over 30 and don’t know it all (haha) March 23 at 12:51pm JoAnn Riccitelli Hart: I’m with Ernie. March 23 at 1:05p Cassie Charbonneau Vizard: Me too. Read all 5 parts! March 23 at 9:04pm Ernie Berckman: Did you ladies read the twenty-something’s diatribe about the 5 emails? .... humorous ... March 23 at 9:08pm JoAnn Riccitelli Hart: Humorous but sad. I don’t like” bytes and blips” of conversation. I may not capitalize all the time but I like complete sentences. March 23 at 9:49pm Robert J Perillat: As on who found “Infinite Jest” to be too short, I was more than charmed to find 4 “to be continued” epistles patient and abiding in my inbox -- a Dickensian treasure trove. I suspect that all that unlocatable tittering is Mr. McLuhan having the penultimate laugh. We shall kill the messanger NOT for the content (there was content -- wasn’t there?) but rather for the means of delivery. In this Wild Westy, ethering age who knows what ultimately works? Apparently, hitting the SAP (Short Attention Span) button on Twittduh or InYourFaceBook can upset some of the locals. (“Why?” is a 21st Century Psych 101 issue that is, thankfully, way outside my interest range.) So, Steve,sow. Broadcast your seeds into all the winds that blow and if some complain that a few of those kernels landed in their weedpatch .... April 19 at 10:32pm
Angie Aker: More snarky put-downs for people who legitimately tried to help Steve learn the difference between how to best use these types of mediums. I’m genuinely offended by the elitism of the elder generation as a defense mechanism to their sometimes clumsy use of newer social media -- which by the way I am kind enough to be patient about until this kind of crap starts. When people offer you something to help you be more successful in your endeavor, the proper response is “thank you.” Peace. April 19 at 10:42pm Robert J Perillat: Ah yes, the expertise of youth. And it seems to me that elitism cuts both ways. Be that as it may, Steve has already explained the “whys” of the particular tactic he employed, limited as he was by the computer crash and the Facebook format. What remains of interest is the response to the “incorrect” use, or mis-use, of that tactic. Granting that there might exist better ways to use these various mediums and “get the message out”, the quibbling over arbitrary conventions has superseded the content and has, at least within this thread, become the discourse. I find this fact interesting and only snark at the quibbles and bits. April 20 at 12:39am Thomas G Henry: hehehhehheehheheeeehehehehehhehehheeheeheh April 21 at 6:20am Hudson Valley Chronic: Thank you. about a minute ago In conclusion, although the expected reinforcements did show up at last, they didn’t do much to stem the gentle tsunami of comeuppance I received. So, to everyone involved, thank you from the bottom of my pushy, sometimes ignorant heart, and be relieved that I’m at least 60 percent sure that I’ll never do anything like that again. Peace out.
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(Concerned Saugertiesian): I’d have to agree that I was annoyed when I got 5 massive emails. I do also agree that the story deserves to be told, but as someone that spends 80% of my time away from a computer, my Blackberry is primary connection to the internet in all of its forms. Either a link or an e-mail saying to check out your notes section for a new post would have been a better use of this medium. I can’t say there is a single one of my 30 coworkers between 18 and 40 that do not have Facebook pushed to their cellphones. Saying that pushing to your cell is a waste of bandwidth is a personal opinion when for others, it’s their primary access. March 22 at 3:04pm
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The Hudson Valley
Page 10 • late spring 2010
The Unbelievable Truth “It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.” —Thomas Paine “It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.” —H.L. Mencken “There is a terrific disadvantage in not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily. Even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.” —John F. Kennedy “Sometimes the truth hurts. And sometimes it feels real good.” —Henry Rollins Dear Hudson Valley Chronic sympathizer, The Hudson Valley is such an incredibly beautiful place, full of wonderful, intelligent souls. Wouldn’t you like for its leaders, institutions and governments to someday live up to its physical image? For that to happen, someone has to take them to task. The quotes above were much more difficult to compile than I had originally thought they’d be. There are at least twice as many negative quotes concerning journalism and the quest for truth as positive ones. Tellingly, large categories of human beings — women, people of color, celebrities and most public figures among them —
seem to have little good to say about the much-maligned Fourth Estate. Perhaps that is because there is and always has been so much bad journalism to wade through along with very little of value. The pay has always been low, and any journalist with an ounce of sense converts him- or herself as soon as possible into a novelist or public relations consultant, because telling lies is easier and far more profitable. But great investigative journalism, the sort that tells a compelling, novelistic story in exposing a monumental crime or injustice, ripping open a simmering conspiracy or discovering a previously unsuspected truth, still commands respect and admiration on the rare occasions it happens. If you are reading this, you may be familiar with and perhaps predisposed to look kindly upon my efforts in publishing the Hudson Valley Chronic alternative news magazine, which has been gaining steam for a little over a year now, and makes a small profit while avoiding compromising entanglements as much as possible. The ambition, however, is to use the Chronic as a guaranteed delivery vehicle for journalism of a much higher, and more expensive, order. To that end I’m currently setting the wheels in motion to create a nonprofit entity (tentatively titled CRIMINY — Center for Reportorial and Investigative Media Independence in New York) to engage in vigorous regional enterprise journalism, the sort of which has not been seen on a sustained level in the Hudson Valley since – well, ever. As a Chronic reader, you are probably an individual of exceptional intelligence, keen perception, curiosity and a high quotient of what I’d call social ethical character. I’m guessing that there’s a better than average chance you would tend to support such an initiative, were it to be made a reality. Everywhere you look these days, someone is pontificating about the tectonic changes in American journalism. With the consolidation of most professional print and broadcast journalism into a handful of entities under corporate control, the sharp decline of print journalism in any form, and the explosion of unfiltered, un-vetted citizen journalism on the web, many areas of the nation find themselves operating in a self-critical vacuum, without anyone keeping tabs on the growing number of foxes guarding the henhouse. I’m not talking about a henhouse in Washington D.C., New York City, Hollywood, Iraq or Afghanistan, which continue to dominate the attentions of our myopic press. I’m talking about the henhouse in your own Hudson Valley backyard, the one being overtaxed and under-
maintained, with rusted chicken wire and a leaky roof. The one that’s supposed to feed and sustain you. The one “protected” by a duplicitous team of on-the-take guard dogs who look the other way as organized gangs of rapacious carnivores steal your livelihood with impunity and toxify your air, water and food. It’s the same henhouse I’ve been watching for years on a limited budget, gathering evidence to someday bring the foxes, guard dogs and other unprincipled beasts to justice, or at least embarrass them into cleaning up their act. Despite a dramatic growth in intelligent, worldly readers over the past 20 years, the Hudson Valley between Albany and New York City remains drastically underserved journalistically. Until the mid-20th century, the region was a relative backwater whose predominant population of landed gentry, family farmers, merchants, industrialists, public employees and tradespersons tended not to watch too closely as political, business and social elites, along with crime syndicates and networks of shady public servants, formed and solidified around them. With some exceptions, local daily newspapers, dependent as they are on the goodwill of a tight-knit, conservative-minded business and political community where everyone knows each other, have rarely been inclined to make waves or point an accusing finger at a member of the power structure. But since the 1950s, the region has exploded in population (to more than 2 million) and importance, economically, culturally and politically. One of a pie-shaped quartet of similar metropolitan exurbs ringing the world city of New York, the region has benefitted from an ongoing diaspora of urban intelligentsia drawn to its singular natural beauty and reputation. The valley today is home to many thousands of the nation’s and the world’s richest and most influential people, businesses and organizations, and is particularly a magnet to those who value the arts, seek to create a gentler, more thoughtful American culture and value a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Most of these people are still reading The New York Times and The New Yorker, as opposed to the Poughkeepsie Journal, Times Herald-Record or the Daily Freeman. Yet the region has attracted a host of evils as well. For instance, most if not all Hudson Valley communities continue to suffer under the yoke of some sort of antiquated and cumbersome governmental structure, often rife with corruption and/or organized criminal activity that resists change and undermines efforts toward reform. Despite herculean efforts maintained by a few, much of this activity, owing largely to the tendency for the Big City to suck
The Hudson Valley
all the journalistic talent, money and attention out of the surrounding regions, goes unreported. My own experience reflects this. Thirteen years ago, following a decent run as a musician and recording artist in New York City, I joined the above-mentioned diaspora and settled in Millbrook, Dutchess County, promptly storming the gates of the country newspaper headquartered there. I started as a part-time paginator and worked my way up through various reportorial and editorial positions, winning awards for writing, reporting, and spouting my jaundiced opinions. Through attrition in a matter of a couple of years, I became executive editor of the now-defunct Taconic Newspapers chain, which put out eight papers, an arts and entertainment weekly, Dutchess magazine and the once ubiquitous Hudson Valley Guide. I took a year sabbatical to investigate for The Nation Institute a conspiracy of mob-run, tacitly governmentsanctioned toxic waste dumping in the Hudson Valley region, and produced a report, “Adventures in Patakistan: Toxic Waste Dumping, Politics and the Mob in Upstate New York.” I was later installed by Bob Jelenic, the now deceased chairman of the Taconic chain’s owner, the Journal Register Corporation, as executive editor of the larger and much shoddier-run Housatonic Publishing empire in western Connecticut, a job that was so hellish it drove me within a matter of months back to New York to a take a dead-end magazine job. I gave my notice there a week before 9/11, watched the towers fall from my bicycle seat in Herald Square and repaired upstate to Rhinecliff to write a novel based on my Nation investigation. Seven months later, I was hired as an editor at Ulster Publishing in the Hudson Valley/Catskills region, which puts out a number of independent weeklies, including the Woodstock Times. A start-up specialist for the publisher, I tackled the Saugerties Times and the Kingston Times, crafting them into viable entities before assuming the cushy title of executive editor-at-large. When not busy building a newspaper or managing the regional newsgathering for the chain, I got to pursue a good bit of investigative reporting over those seven years — of the sort I never would have had the chance to pursue had I been working at a bigger daily paper. For example, I succeeded in getting a horrid, Empire State Development-funded sweatshop of a “candle factory” — owned by Seagrams heir Matthew Bronfman, of all people — closed down due to a series of enterprise reporting, and added significantly to my already voluminous dossier on all the nefarious political, business and quasi-criminal operators populating the Mid-Hudson region, who continue to provide a deep roster of characters and subplots that from time to time enrich my stories in the Chronic. In the absence of any financial backing whatsoever, other than a few thousand dollars in annual advertising revenue and an occasional pat on the back, I have been able with the Chronic to cobble together the resources I need to proceed as a largely one-person show. I know the local county clerk’s offices inside and out, maintain a large and growing web of reliable sources as well as nominally valuable cranks, gossips and axe-grinders, am a tireless and pretty effective web trawler and hack into Lexis-Nexis whenever I get the chance. But no one person can possibly begin to tackle the task of conducting a comprehensive investigative effort to effect change in a region such as this. I have reached out and created a preparatory network with a short list of talented journalists – headlined by David Gargill, author of the fine cover story in the December 2009 Harper’s Magazine titled: “The General Electric Superfraud; Why the Hudson Will Never Run Clean,” and Vassar alum Victoria Balfour, a writer, investigative journalist and public advocate who spent eight years building a massive, complex case against Dr. William Ayres, a retired California-based child psychiatrist on trial for allegedly molesting five former patients, all young boys. They and others are ready to pitch in and be part of the CRIMINY effort as long as there’s a modicum of a living in it. In the manner of large national and international organizations like ProPublica and GlobalPost.com, I propose to set a reasonably well-funded CRIMINY team on the scent of stories tackling issues large and seemingly small. CSX railroad, for example, still owns an awful lot of riverfront property, including rights-of way along the entire length of the eastern shore of the Hudson and much of the western shore between NYC and Selkirk. It discourages river access across its tracks, holds up infrastructure improvements, and holds the region hostage to an industrial yoke that it has been trying to throw off for 30 years. CSX runs garbage trains as well as trains carrying toxic chemicals and radioactive materials up and down the Hudson Valley. Most of New York City’s commercial garbage – the stuff that used to go to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, making its peak the highest in elevation along the East Coast – is now transported from Manhattan and the outer boroughs via truck, barge and train to a vast transfer station in the South Bronx, where it is packed into containers and shipped to landfills in Virginia aboard long nightly CSX trains. As there is no way for a train to get over the Hudson anywhere near New York City, they proceed north along the scenic riverfront to the bridge at Selkirk, passing unseen through some of the most exclusive residential real estate in the nation, as well as through towns and villages and thousands of
lATE sPRING 2010 • PAGE 11
acres of protected parkland, leaking noxious gases into the rarefied nostrils of unwitting property owners who moved upstate for the fresh air and natural beauty. The trains then come south along the western right-of-way, stinking up rural swathes of Greene and Ulster counties before heading through the centers of Kingston, Newburgh and other towns on their way to Virginia. A concerted series of investigations would focus on the process and safety concerns of moving garbage and toxic chemicals via train, the health effects of airborne pollution, the failure of CSX to maintain its tracks, crossings, bridges and other infrastructure, etc. This would also make a lot of people upset. We’ll conduct comprehensive analyses of the status of large development proposals and projects in the valley. We’ll investigate the former IBM facility in Kingston, now called “Tech City,” which is notorious for being a white elephant hampered by an environmental disaster beneath its mostly empty buildings. We’ll examine the status of Industrial Development Agency (IDA) bond issues in the region. Many bad IDA loans have been made, to money-laundering , mob-connected projects that are either unrealized or are rife with corruption. These loans were also sliced and diced and bundled into the derivatives market, to a significant degree. We’ll do serious background investigations of all politicians, and conduct inquiries into their fundraising practices. We’ll revisit the still unsatisfactorily reported story of the Ulster County Jail “boondoggle” — millions over budget, and years too late. There is far more than meets the eye on this one. We’ll continue investigating large-scale toxic waste dumping in the region, which I believe to be a continuing, pervasive problem engendered primarily by activities at IBM and other large facilities in East Fishkill. I also suspect problems as a result of other not-so-clean technological efforts in the greater region, such as Albany’s nanotech facility. There are many, many more initiatives that can be taken, some specific to a particular municipality, and others impacting the entire region. Indian Point. Stewart Airport. The specter of a terrorism trial being held in Newburgh. The continued undercurrent of racism in the valley and its effects. Mapping the regional drug trade. Examining local law enforcement, out-of-control taxes, massive school budgets, municipal slush funds, no-show job culture, judicial imprudence, bribery of public officials. Exposing secret federal investigations. Examining the continued rash of sudden closures of gas stations and mini marts and the disappearances of their Muslim and South Asian proprietors. White supremacist networks. Human trafficking. Dogfights. Casino lobbyists. The deliberate dumping by the state criminal justice system of
newly released sex offenders into local districts based on their favorable social services delivery capabilities. Please note that many of the stories being contemplated are challenging to entrenched interests and confrontational to established social and power structures. They do not warm the hearts of Chamber of Commerce members and politicians, and do not attract the support of most potential advertisers. To attempt to do stories like these requires time and money. It requires the support of people who are deeply concerned about what is happening around them, and who agree that there is a lot wrong in the world and that there is no place too scary to shine a light. In researching this nonprofit model I’ve learned much about the lay of the land nationwide and the prognosis for success regionally. I’ve been having conversations with Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation at Stanford University, which is inundated with requests from around the nation to help fund startups just like this to do local investigative journalism. While he has been extremely supportive and has invited my to try and score a grant from his organization, he advised that the Knight Foundation cannot guarantee funding to anyone based upon merit and need, as part of the criteria from their point of view involves trying out radically different models and seeing what sticks. He suggested something I already knew would have to be done: enlist local support for the project, which would strengthen the case for a matching grant. That is why I am beginning the process of seeking support, along with whatever comments and advice you may have concerning this initiative. Please take a slice out of your very busy life and think about how you might want to be involved, about the people you know who would be supportive, and write back to me, either using this Facebook structure or by e-mailing me. I’d appreciate referrals and introductions to friends and individuals of intelligence and who exhibit a similarly high quotient of social ethical character. People with organizational and fundraising skills. It would not hurt to be introduced to people of means who reflect those qualities. I’m open to suggestions and ideas, especially of the sort that would assist this organization in getting off the ground. And I’m certainly open to potential sources of financial support as this thing takes shape in the near future. I’m looking forward to our conversation, and to helping this beautiful treasure of a region reach its full potential by exposing and throwing off the scourges that continue to hold it back.
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The Hudson Valley
Page 12 • late spring 2010
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16 Freedom Plains Road (Rte. 55) Poughkeepsie
Ages 18 months through 13 years old Complemented with a strong background of teaching in the LaGrange area, the Hawk Meadow Montessori School teachers and staff have collectively over 75 years’ worth of experience in Montessori instruction. The school offers a large, light-filled space with the full range of Montessori materials for all age levels, and a playground situated outside. In each classroom at Hawk Meadow Montessori, an environment has been created in which each child’s individual personality and learning style is allowed to unfold. We believe that each child should be encouraged to explore his or her environment, and given the tools to be a thoughtful, caring, responsible and knowledgeable citizen of the world.
In LaGrange at 488 Freedom Plains Road For information, call (845) 223-3783
“Where young minds learn to soar”
Open houses on Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. Visit our website at:
Published on Jul 21, 2010
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